I scared ya, didn't I? You clicked over here expecting that same old book post and instead you're hit with a spanking new entry!
E* and I just got back from a wonderful trip to Colorado. It started with the wedding of a friend and continued with a bit of family fun and the requisite death hike.
Let's begin at the beginning. And because bullets on the screen are preferable to real bullets..
- This friend studied with me in the DR 3 years ago. She is now the blushing bride of a recent air force academy grad. Their honeymoon is 60 days long! (basically that's how much leave he has until he begins the next appointment in Florida). The wedding was gorgeous - that air force academy chapel is intense! E* and I were joined by my very good friend Titties McGee from Ohio who also studied with me in the DR. She was our hotel room chaperone to make sure we didn't get fresh. We managed to squeeze in a midday traipse around the Garden of the Gods before the wedding. What a cool place!
- As the weekend came to a close and people headed back to their homelands, E* and I drove 30 min. north of Colorado Springs to Larkspur to visit my aunt & uncle who pretty much live on the side of a mountain. They warned us before a short hike behind their house to watch out for bears, mountain lions, and rattlesnakes. Nice. While I admit I did get a little giddy that I might actually get to see a moutain lion in the wild, we were not granted the pleasure. However, we were graced with multiple, up-close encounters with foxes, mule deer, hummingbirds, and butterflies.
- Its been a full week now since our Hike of Death and I feel I have enough distance from it to be able to speak about it. ;) We had been chatting with various REI people over the weekend about the feasibility of hiking Pike's Peak. It was to be a training session for E's Machu Picchu/Inca Trail extravaganza in August. While most of them said we could probably handle the hike, they were all fairly hesitant about their statements because the weather changes on Pike's Peak so quickly and severely that even very experienced hikers are suddenly put in a lot of danger. After a lot of back and forth, we decided to nix it in favor of another challenging hike with similar levels of altitude since that's really all E wanted to experience: how his body would respond to 9, 10K feet.
- On Tuesday morning we set out from Larkspur through Colorado Springs and eventually headed west into the mountains. We pulled over at the trailhead for the Waldo Canyon Loop around 9 am, two hours later than we had wanted to start the hike. We were packed with tons of water and lots of snacks even though the hike was only supposed to take 3 hours and covers 7 miles. The thinking was it would be good for E* to get used to carrying a heavily laden pack. I'll spare you all the gorey details, but sometime around 1:30 (1 1/2 hrs. after we were supposed to be limping over the finish line and back at our car) we started realizing that the trail we had been following was a little 'off'. As in, it was difficult to match up what our guide book said we were supposed to be seeing with what we were actually experiencing. And the trickle of hikers and tell-tale dog poop we had seen throughout the beginning of the trail had fizzled off to nothing. We're not sure when it was that we stopped seeing other people. But we hadn't been concerned because we were definitely following a well-maintained path. It just...didn't seem to be a well-maintained path that was mentioned in our 2 guidebooks. Also, we hit about 3 forks in the trail that were NOT marked. On the Waldo Canyon Loop, there AREN'T any forks. That's why its a LOOP! So we spent the next 2 1/2 hrs. trying to back track and figure out what the hell happened. We started thinking that we had stumbled off the main path and were completely entangled in an adjoining network of paths. But this made me angry for several reasons. 1) why weren't these other paths mentioned in our guidebooks? If only as a warning! 2) Why weren't these paths marked themselves to let a wayward hiker know that they were indeed NO LONGER on the Waldo Canyon Loop such that the mantra of "just keep bearing right around this clockwise loop" would be completely useless? and 3) why the f* was our guidebook entitled "Best Easy Day Hikes in Colorado" and in particular, the Waldo Canyon Loop was called, "the most popular hike in the Pikes Peak region"!!??
- Highlights of this unmarked network of trails that we affectionately refer to as Death Hike include, the Wagonwheel Meadow (where you enter a clearing and are faced with 5 different paths that head off in opposite directions), Rattlesnake Alley (where we were the tallest thing around noting approaching thunderclouds over the neighboring peak, and we were surrounded by very low brush and cactuses...and small holes in the ground about the size of a tennis ball), and Billy Goat Trail (this was the icing on the cake: a VERY steep path lined with about 3 inches of gravel where one had to snow-plow down ski style and that's with 2 walking sticks!). It was just after that last section that we were suddenly dumped out on what appeared to be the very first part of the original hike. 20 minutes later we reached the trailhead again and took the final pictures documenting our success at survival.
I apologize for the slight melodrama. To wrap up, we made a beeline for REI to consult their maps to find out where the f*&# we had been. There was ONE map there that showed dotted lines for a network of trails heading northwest from the main loop. It appears that we made 1 wrong decision about 1/4 of the way into our clockwise loop where we took a left fork instead of a right fork (we maintain that this was not marked but I'll admit that it was slightly moronic to take a left fork when we were supposed to be going CLOCKWISE/right around a circle). After that short lapse in judgement, we were punished for 5 hours. The REI guy estimated that we probably hiked 14 miles instead of the intended 7 and hit a max elevation of 8600 instead of 8100. There is potential for Death Hike Part II since we are going camping this weekend in Big Meadows. You can start placing bets on where our stellar navigational skills will lead us.